Street Sculpture

On Edinburgh’s Dalry Road, there is a sculpture of two draymen rolling a beer barrel. It is set slightly back from the pavement and is probably not even noticed by the shoppers and office workers who hurry past it each day. The sculpture is a tribute to Edinburgh’s brewing industry, prominent in that part of the city.

The sculpture is notable because it is a rare example of this type of art in Britain. Of course, there are many statues, but street sculpture, with its underlying sense of humour, is not easily found in the UK. In Eastern Europe, though, it is much more prevalent.

It's that man(hole) again

It’s that man(hole) again

Perhaps the best-known location for the genre is Bratislava. The Slovakian capital has some fine and famous examples of the art. How many tourists have stopped to take pictures of the figure appearing from a manhole or snapped their friends sitting by the Napoleonic soldier leaning on a bench? It is certain that the rather seedy-looking paparazzo, sneaking a photo outside a restaurant, has in turn been photographed on thousands of occasions.

Empire building is hard work

Empire building is hard work

Take a stroll through Riga and you will encounter a rather Bohemian-looking character lolling against a park fence. The figure is that of Kārlis Padegs, one of Latvia’s most famous artists, who died from tuberculosis at the absurdly young age of 28. The statue stands outside the Vērmanes Garden in central Riga.

Kārlis Padegs dresses down

Kārlis Padegs dresses down

Skopje houses a riot of statues and monuments. Some of them, like the Alexander the Great statue in Macedonia Square, are magnificently over the top. Others, dotted randomly about the city, are just plain crackers.

Alexander (the Great's) Ragtime Band

Alexander (the Great’s) Ragtime Band

By the river, a woman is about to dive into the river. A friend has already taken the plunge, as we can see the feet of the previous diver. There are musicians, giant fish and all sorts of surreal lunacy.

Where's that weird fish?

Where’s that weird fish?

Fish loses bicycle

Fish loses bicycle

Skopje has a seemingly insatiable desire for statues of great historical figures, but in contrast to all this stands a sculpture of a trendy young woman in dark glasses, mobile phone pressed to her right ear.

Hi, I'm out shopping

Hi, I’m out shopping

The Balkan region is a good source of strange artwork popping up in unexpected places. In Ljubljana, take a stroll through Tivoli Park and you’ll spot an elderly gentleman sitting on a bench. Nothing too strange so far, but glance to his left and a miniature version of the figure is perched on the arm of the seat.

You've shrunk since I saw you last...

You’ve shrunk since I saw you last…

The new Butchers’ Bridge, across from the Central Market in Ljubljana, is even more zany. Adam and Eve, Prometheus and a startled Satyr vie for attention with a host of grotesque frogs, shellfish and other oddballs. The bridge has become a spot for lovers to attach padlocks, optimistically proclaiming their eternal love.

Beyond Satyr

Beyond Satyr

Sofia, by comparison, is relatively sober in its art. Even so, a walk through the City Garden might cause a little surprise as you encounter a muddy-looking car with a large head on its roof. Closer inspection reveals that the work is, in fact, a tribute to the Trabant, the legendary, if horribly inefficient, East German car.

A Trabant breaks down

A Trabant breaks down

Finally, a couple of favourites from Budapest. A fat and rather pompous-looking soldier stands guard amidst the shoppers in the city centre, looking slightly like a Magyar version of Dad’s Army’s Captain Mainwaring.

Don't tell him, Pike

Don’t tell him, Pike

Another well-photographed figure in the city is the ‘Little Princess’, the girl reaching out to a dog to retrieve the ball in its mouth. The statue is in Vigadó Square, the small garden outside one of Budapest’s famous concert halls.

Token cute photo

Token cute photo

These works add something to their surroundings. There is, in the best of them, an undercurrent of humour. This is art that doesn’t take itself too seriously and that cannot be a bad thing.

Bratislava – Street Art and Style

Sometimes, you hear the view espoused that Bratislava is a kind of poor man’s Prague, a pale imitation of the real thing. Yes, it’s quite nice, but Prague is the place you really want to visit. Bratislava is okay for a few hours, they’ll tell you, but nothing more than that.

This view is not only lazy, but plain wrong. For one thing, Bratislava is nearer to Vienna than it is to the Czech capital, the two cities being Europe’s closest capitals. For another, and more important factor, Bratislava has its own distinct character, with a few delightful quirks that give it an individual style.

One way to enjoy a stay in central Bratislava without incurring too much expense is to stay on a boat. There are several ‘botels’ moored on the Danube and apart from being near the centre, the experience offers novelty value. Unless, of course, you happen to live on a boat.

One sight on the river that you can’t miss – in any sense – is the UFO Bridge. Its real title is the Bridge of the Slovak National Uprising and though it looks rather 21st-century, it was, in fact, completed in 1972. You can go up to the top of the ‘spacecraft’ via a lift (unless you really want to walk up 430 steps) and have a coffee or a meal in the restaurant. From there, you get a fantastic view of the city and if you sit still for long enough, you find yourself looking at a different part because the place revolves (very slowly, thankfully). In the evenings, it becomes a nightclub.

The UFO

The UFO

Another place to provide a panoramic view is the castle, which affords a sight of the city of Bratislava, but of neighbouring Austria as well. Like many European castles, this one has undergone much rebuilding and restoration, resulting in a mix of styles from Gothic and Renaissance through to Baroque. The site houses the current Parliament building, a rather dismal grey box of concrete, and also the Museum of History and Music Museum.

Bratislava (duck cam view)

Bratislava (duck cam view)

One of the remaining parts of the medieval fortifications of the city is St. Michael’s Gate. The lovely Baroque tower houses a small museum and at the top, there is another wonderful viewing point. Bratislava does scenic views very well.

The Castle

The Castle

The street below the gate is, apparently, one of the most expensive in Europe and clearly designed for those with far too much money. Designer names abound on the shops and the restaurants are not for those of us looking for good value. A quick departure to a place of more modest ambition is required and there are plenty of those, even in the central parts of the city. It’s not hard to find somewhere to refuel for a fraction of the cost of the area around St Michael’s.

Something that costs nothing at all is an exploration of one of Bratislava’s endearing traits, street sculpture. A figure appears from a manhole in the street; a shady-looking paparazzo snaps passers-by outside a restaurant; a Napoleonic soldier leans nonchalantly on the back of a bench in the main square. In Hviezdoslav Square, you’ll also bump into a statue of Hans Christian Andersen, who was so complimentary about Bratislava that the favour was returned.

As you might expect, Slovakia is big on beer (one thing it does have in common with Prague). There are the usual international conglomerates and there is a fair amount of Czech beer to be found, but there is also a pleasing growth of micro-breweries and brew pubs. A good example of a proper, no-nonsense pub with its own brewery is Pivovarský Hostinec Richtár Jakub, which is near the university and which sells not only its own beer, but a range of guest beers from elsewhere.

There is no shortage of places to have a good drink and even in the central part of town, it doesn’t have to be expensive. One option, particularly in the summer, is to find a little bar down by the river and sit outside with a very cheap glass of beer while watching the evening sun go down.

Bratislava’s proximity to Vienna is reflected in the culture of music, theatre, opera and ballet. Just near the watching statue of Andersen, the ‘old’ National Theatre building in the Old Town is a glorious neo-Renaissance affair dating from the 1880s and the Austro-Hungarian days. Sadly, the use of this theatre is being overtaken by the ‘new’ National Theatre, which took more than twenty years to build and finally opened in 2007. Presumably, such a length of time was required to design and construct a building as hideous as this.

The main square

The main square

Mercifully, though, there is more to Bratislava than the odd hideous building. These things happen in any city and sometimes, buildings are so bad that they become attractions of their own. Bratislava’s sights, museums, restaurants, bars, parks and streets are a match for anywhere in Europe, all with the bonus of the magnificent Danube at its heart. Don’t for a minute believe all that stuff about Bratislava being merely Prague’s poorer little brother.